Apple flirts with, but doesn't commit to touchscreen

Macworld | Oct 31, 2016

Apple brings touchscreen capabilities to the MacBook Pro without turning it into a two-in-one.

After four grueling years, Apple just announced an updated version of the MacBook Pro. And it comes with a keyboard like we’ve never touched before.

The new MacBook Pro has all the signs of a signature Apple upgrade: it’s faster, lighter, thinner, and more expensive than previous models. But the best new feature is definitely the Touch Bar, a contextual touchscreen panel at the top of the keyboard that changes depending on which app you have open. For example, in the Messages app, the Touch Bar shows you QuickType suggestions and in Final Cut Pro, the bar lets you scroll through your movie project.

This Touch Bar offers the biggest touchscreen capabilities we’ve ever seen on a Mac. But in a world where new PC laptops have full touchscreen displays, the Touch Bar seems to come from a place of restraint. The Touch Bar also reaffirms Apple’s take on what a laptop should and shouldn’t be.

At the end of the day, Apple doesn’t want to make a two-in-one laptop. Apple believes that touchscreen displays are better reserved for handheld devices, like the iPhone and the iPad. And I actually agree. Even though my Macbook is portable, I still need to set up camp in order to use it. iPhones and iPads are more go-with-the-flow—you can pick them up, tap them on, take them with you from room to room, and get your fingers all over them.

On the other hand, having touchscreen controls on my Macbook display would break up my work flow. I don’t want to have to switch from touching the keyboard to touching the screen. I want all the controls to be located around the same general vicinity.

Apple may be pushing against a two-in-one laptop, but there’s evidence that the company has already started venturing into this territory. The iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil proves that Apple would rather make the iPad into a laptop replacement than turn the Macbook into a tablet.

A MacBook and an iPad are still two different beasts, even if they happen to share a few traits. That’s why the Touch Bar is so genius. It takes the best of iOS touchscreen functionality while retaining the Macbook’s place as a workshop.

Perhaps, Apple will expand on the Touch Bar and we’ll someday see a Macbook with more robust touchscreen capabilities. But I’m pretty certain Apple’s touchscreen strategy for the Macbook will be centered around the keyboard. So don’t even think about getting your dirty paws on my Retina display.